Weight-Loss Tip: Add Extra Calcium to a Low-Fat Diet
April 17, 2000 -- Got milk? New research suggests you should if you want to
lose weight. The study shows that calcium -- three or four daily servings of
low-fat dairy products -- can help adjust your body's fat-burning
The key is low-fat dairy sources, says lead author Hang Shi, a
postdoctoral student in the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee
at Knoxville. "High-fat dietary calcium can establish obesity, but it's
surprising that low-fat calcium may help reduce body fat," Shi tells WebMD.
"The effect is very significant, much more than we imagined it would
His paper on the effects of a high-calcium diet in increasing body fat loss
was presented at the Experimental Biology 2000 meeting in San Diego.
"The magnitude of the findings was shocking," says Michael Zemel,
PhD, director of the Nutrition Institute, who is Shi's co-author and doctoral
In their past studies, Zemel and colleagues have shown that calcium stored
in fat cells plays a crucial role in regulating how fat is stored and broken
down by the body. It's thought that the more calcium there is in a fat cell,
the more fat it will burn.
The researchers used mice bred to be obese in their current study. The mice
were fed a special high-fat, high-sugar diet for six weeks. All had a 27%
increase in body fat.
Some were then switched to a calorie-restricted diet. Of those, one group
was given calcium supplements (calcium carbonate similar to Tums) and others
were fed "medium" and "high" amounts of low-fat dry milk.
Body fat storage was markedly reduced by all three high-calcium
diets, say the authors.
Those given calcium supplements had good results, when combined with the
restricted-calorie diet. Mice getting their calcium via supplements had a 42%
decrease in body fat, whereas mice eating without supplements had an 8% body
However, calcium from dairy products produced the best results. Mice on the
"medium-dairy" diet had a 60% decrease in body fat, while those on the
"high-dairy" diet lost 69% body fat. Researchers also found very small
increases in thermogenesis -- the body's core temperature -- which then
enhances the effects of calcium gained through diet rather than calcium in
supplement form, says Zemel.
"Calcium is no magic bullet. What the study says is that ...
higher-calcium diets favor burning rather than storing fat. Calcium changes the
efficiency of weight loss," Zemel tells WebMD.
The human body's metabolism makes weight loss difficult, he explains.
"Many people who stick to a calorie-reduced diet don't lose weight as fast
as they think they should. That's because they activate metabolic protection
... Their bodies sense starvation and hang on to energy -- fat -- more
Too many dieters tend to immediately "jettison dairy foods from their
diet, because they're just sure they're going to make them fat. In fact,
they're shooting themselves in the foot, because they subject themselves to
more empty-calorie sources. They would be better off if they would substitute
high-fat dairy products with low-fat dairy," says Zemel.